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Western Press Review: Commentary Bemused By U.S. Election

Prague, 9 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Columnist T. R. Reid writing from London in The Washington Post encapsulated Western reaction to yesterday's U.S. election: "An enthralled but bewildered world watched the planet's most powerful democracy choosing its leader, both amused and disturbed."

Here are excerpts from Western press commentary:


In the International Herald Tribune, international-affairs columnist Flora Lewis: "The remarkable American election showed a country [as I see it] so near to consensus that only the thinnest line bisected the spectrum of opinion." She adds: "The country isn't angry. It seems to feel that with the way things are going, it can afford to go for amiability without too much risk."


Commentator Jonathan Freedland in Britain's Guardian: "That's the thing about America. It never let's you down. As if directed by a divine scriptwriter, whose life's work is to produce a thriller with impossible twists and implausible turns, the United States remains the story to beat all stories."


From an editorial in Spain's El Mundo daily: "An optimistic conclusion can be extracted from these agitated and frantic 24 hours -- the big advantage of the democracies over the authoritarian systems is their transparency. The possibility of fraud that could alter the will of the people is being eliminated by information technologies. All votes are sacred, even those of the last few."


Spain's El Pais, in an editorial: "The legal winner will be the president of a more and more complex society split in two parts by the electoral polls."


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung: "Is the United States, despite a booming economy, full employment and peace abroad, divided into two irredeemably opposing camps? Will the new president enter office burdened by reservations concerning his legitimacy? No. Because even a small margin is a margin, and because the differences between the two candidate were never irreconcilable."


Editorial in The New York Times, commenting on the decision by Republican candidate George W. Bush's brother to stay out of any official role in the Florida recount. Jeb Bush is governor of Florida: "We see an encouraging signal in Jeb Bush's recusal. This is a time for both presidential candidates, their advisers and their parties to proceed with extreme caution -- a caution merited by the danger that events could lurch suddenly toward political or constitutional crisis. The tradition of regular, reliable elections and orderly transition of power is one of the glories of American democracy."


In Turkey's Milliyet newspaper, columnist Sami Kohen: "One candidate can get a majority of the popular vote but he may lose the elections. For us, it is a bit strange, to say the least."


Britain's Financial Times quotes a German caller to U.S. National Public Radio as saying that he ought to be able to run for U.S. president, since he "knows more and cares more about the outcome than do American ignoramuses."


In its editorial, Britain's Financial Times also says this: "The view that America's aging electoral system is sapping the nation's attachment to democracy is utterly wrong. The age of the system is one of its virtues. Quaint electoral institutions may appear to obscure the value and purpose of democracy for modern-day voters. But they can have a wonderfully rejuvenating effect on the body politic, reconnecting citizens with their government."

The paper concludes: "This week's likely split between popular and electoral college votes may well stimulate proposals to change the arrangement. It could even lead to Congress' debating a new constitutional amendment. In other words, America will continue to reform itself gradually and gently, according to the rule of law. You can't get more democratic than that."


French commentator Pierre Taribo, in L'Est Republicain, a regional daily: "At the end of the day the new, the White House occupant will be a man in command of a country which, because of the economic wealth that is at its disposal, has all the good fairies on its side."


The Financial Times turns to a U.S. legal scholar for comment. Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, writes at length in the British newspaper. The sum of his view? "America is divided. But not deeply."


A Washington Post editorial urges moderate and sensitive responses to the election uncertainty: "Whoever becomes president will, in one sense, have a qualified mandate. Almost exactly half the country will have said no to what the other half embraced. That makes it all the more important for both sides to pay even more deference than usual to the process. Already some partisans are casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election. But neither a close election, assuming it was fair, nor a contradiction between popular and electoral college counts, taint a victory in our system. The campaigns should do their best to refrain from implying otherwise, and the candidates should remember that the whole world is watching."


Luis Foix, commenting in Spain's La Vanguardia: "What is at stake in these frantic hours of uncertainty about who will be the next president of the United States is not knowing if the American political system can support a president who has not been elected by a majority of votes. The rules are what they are and cannot be changed in the middle of the game. [What counts], among many other things, is a democracy, served by [news] media owned by a few for the consumption of a majority that places an unlimited trust in the messengers and in their message."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego contributed to our report.)